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By Erica Sweeney
January 16, 2018
As Executive Vice-President of Gaylor Electric, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Justin Baker oversees new business development for the company’s southeast region, works to attract new talent to the business, and serves as a mentor for newcomers in the industry. However, Baker never really planned a career in the construction industry. He started out as an engineering major at Purdue University. While working at Menards, a home improvement store chain, during college, he learned about Purdue’s Building Construction Management program and decided to switch majors.
“I like the hands-on side of it, but I also like the business aspects of it,” Baker explains.
While in college, he worked framing houses and did internships with commercial contractors. Soon after graduating from Purdue in 2002, he joined Gaylor, where he first served as Vice-President of the company’s Charlotte operations. In August 2017, he was promoted to Executive Vice-President.
The 39-year-old has recently been named Associated Builders and Contractors’ Young Professional of the Year. He also serves as council chairman for his local Charlotte chapter of ABC.
The Jobsite spoke to Baker about his experiences in the construction industry, the future of the industry, and why young people should consider a career in construction.
The Jobsite: What do you love so much about being a part of the construction industry?
Baker: I love just the diversity of it. You get to deal with a whole lot of different folks—someone on the craft level, engineers, or a business owner who is looking to build something new. That is one of the big things I like about it. What’s more, you can even take it deeper from the technology perspective: how we build today versus building in the future and all the different technology trends that are put into play there.
What has contributed to your success in the industry?
Baker: I think the biggest successes are just a lot of hard work, determination, and courage. You have to be able to put the hard work in to achieve your results. And, you’ve got to be persistent to get the outcomes you're really looking for and have the courage to do some difficult things at times. You have to step out of your comfort zone to achieve what you're really trying to achieve.
How did you feel when you learned that you had been named ABC’s Young Professional of the Year?
Baker: That was a great honor. I was recommended through our other Executive Vice-President, Rob Griffith. Through that process, there was a questionnaire to be filled out. All the questionnaires were shortlisted down to three nominees, and we were all brought down to Orlando for [ABC's Leadership Week Conference in November]. There was a face-to-face interview that determined the winner. Ultimately, with a great organization like ABC and all the great talent, it's a great honor to be selected because there was some stiff competition. It was a fun process.
In your opinion, what are some of the biggest issues the construction industry is facing?
Baker: The biggest issue is just getting people into the trades. It's really about overcoming the stigma of what construction is. I think it’s still considered by most people to be on the blue-collar side. Every parent wants their kid to go to college these days. So, it's really how do we show folks what you can do in this industry.
If you look at most of the business owners and the folks running construction companies, they started in the field as a trade. It’s one of the easiest professions to go into to start your own business, because it doesn't take a tremendous amount of capital. Our founder, John Gaylor, started with $1,000 and his pickup truck and now he's one of the top electrical contractors in the country.
I think there's a tremendous amount of opportunity in the industry. It's not just a bunch of people digging ditches all day, once you get into the construction industry, you can literally do whatever you want—from accounting to IT to being in executive management to owning your own company. It's such a diverse business, and we've got to help folks see that it's not just a manual labor job. You may start there, but you can definitely go anywhere you want and do anything you want in this business.
Another thing is embracing technology. To me, construction is a very disrupted industry at the moment. There's a whole lot of different new technology coming in. To some degree, everybody's looking to see what's going to be the prevailing technology and where it's going to go.
What advice do you have for younger people entering the construction field?
Baker: I think it's just get in and learn as much as you can about the business and understand how diverse the industry is. Get into it, and network among everybody. You know you never know where it's going to take your career, who you're going to meet. It also goes back to something that I was taught and mentored: be present, show up to everything. I think that's partly what's helped me get where I am now. Just always being present, and when you got an opportunity, whether it's to go meet with somebody or do something, go. You never know where it might take you.
This industry is so vast, and there's so much out there. I see a lot of folks struggle with feeling like they already know too much, or they've already mastered it. You should always make sure you’re open to learn more. There's always something bigger out there to continue learning.
young construction professional
construction industry award
2017 Women in Construction Standouts
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